Former British Conservative Party MP Ann Widdecombe talks to Wojciech Zdrojkowski about Theresa May’s handling of Brexit and why she expects the EU to implode.
You retired from politics in 2010. Do you miss it?
No I don’t. If I was going to miss it, I wouldn’t have left. I’ve always said I got the point of exit just right. If I had left earlier, I would have missed it, and if I left later, I would have been very jaded.
You were a Conservative Party MP for more than 20 years, but does a real conservative party still exist in Britain?
I think there is still an economic conservative party, a party that believes in private enterprise and wealth creation for the benefit of all. I think that element of conservatism is still very much alive and kicking, and is probably why people choose the Conservatives over Labour. What I think isn’t there any longer in any great strength, is a socially conservative party, a party that believes in the family. That’s gone.
How would you say your former party is doing right now?
I’m happy enough with what the government’s trying to do, but the party itself is obviously badly divided. This is the first time I can remember that both major parties have been in a mess at the same time. As I keep saying to people, it isn’t that the government is weak, it’s that the majority is non existent. It’s very hard to govern with strength, when you’ve got to negotiate every single thing.
Do you think both parties being in such turmoil is hindering Brexit?
Well certainly if Theresa May had a healthy majority, and that she doesn’t is purely down to her, but if she had a healthy majority, I think Brexit would have been sorted by now. Because she hasn’t, she’s hostage to all the various action in the house.
Is Theresa May the right person to lead Brexit?
Whoever’s leading it is going to have the same problem with a majority. Let’s suppose it’s Boris – he’s still got no majority. He’s still got to wheel and deal with the DUP. So Theresa May can’t just say, as Mrs Thatcher or Tony Blair could, ‘this is what we’re going to do.’ They had big enough majorities to do that. She’s got to negotiate everything, every sub-clause, and so would anybody else in that position.
Nevertheless, wouldn’t it be better to have somebody in charge of Brexit, who actually believes in it? Many people don’t think Theresa May does.
Well she doesn’t. She did nothing during the referendum campaign, despite the fact that she was home secretary and one of the biggest issues, if not the biggest, is immigration. She did absolutely nothing, and then she voted remain. So no, people don’t think she’s a convinced Brexiteer, but I certainly think that she’s trying to deliver a result. I think she does respect the referendum result.
You’re known to hold some views considered controversial by some. You’ve spoken in favour of the death penalty. Are you still for it?
Yes. I’m not interested in the death penalty as retribution, let me make that clear, but if it is a deterrent, then it actually saves innocent lives, and then you’ve got a moral responsibility to choose whose lives you’re going to save. Are you going to save the innocent lives, or are you going to save the lives of those who have committed murder? You have to decide between the two. In the five years that followed the abolition of the death penalty, we still collected statistics on the basis of capital and non capital murder, which of course, we haven’t done since. The capital murder rate went up 125% in that period. That was the immediate effect of the abolition, so nobody’s going to tell me that it wasn’t a deterrent.
You’ve criticised the #MeToo movement. You said women these days are constantly whinging. You don’t like modern feminism either.
No. The new feminism is destructive. Not only is it destructive towards men, but it’s very destructive towards women, because it presents us as whiners and whingers who want special treatment. The feminism that I signed up to was in the 1970s. When I was graduating from university, it was still perfectly lawful for an employer to advertise a job with two rates of pay underneath, one for men and one for women. It was lawful to refuse a woman a job, on the grounds that she was a woman. It was lawful to refuse a woman a property to rent. There were all sorts of restrictions on finance if the woman was married. We’ve won that battle and we won it because what we said in the 70s was, all we want is a level playing field and if we get it, we’ll compete with men or our own merits, and we’ll be as good as them or sometimes better. That was the cry of 70s feminism. 90s feminism was all about, oh no, we don’t want a level playing field, we want it tilted towards us. We want all women shortlists, we want quotas, we want this, we want that. It changed it’s tone completely and that is why I call it wimpish. I hate women presenting themselves in that way, as if we’re dependent on the patronage of the men.
But many women feel the battle hasn’t been won yet.
We’ve won. We’re now in a society in which the monarch, the prime minister, the head of the judiciary and the head of the Metropolitan police are all women, and nobody bats an eyelid. We have absolutely won, but we don’t accept that, and there are some women who are still looking for battles to fight, and the more comprehensively we’ve won, the stupider those battles get.
In 1993 you converted from the Church of England to Catholicism. Why?
Well the final straw was the debate over women priests, which wasn’t about ‘is this theologically possible?’, it was all about ‘if we don’t do this, we shan’t appeal to the modern world’, which is not my idea of how a church should operate. A church should lead not follow, but that was only the final straw. For years I had been very disillusioned with the Church of England, which compromised on everything and was always sacrificing faith for fashion. I looked by contrast with Rome, where even if something was profoundly unpopular, Rome stood by it.
Is there any chance of you returning to the Church of England?
You’re joking aren’t you? What a thought.
Have you ever been to Poland?
The only time I came to Poland was in the early 1990s, when I was an employment minister. The Berlin Wall had come down in 89 and the former Warsaw Pact countries were all setting up social security systems pretty much from scratch, because they hadn’t had those comprehensive welfare systems under communism. They were taking advice and talking a great deal to western democracies, who had been running them for years. I visited Poland then. I was in Warsaw and Krakow.
Poland has received a lot of negative media coverage for its problems with the EU. Do you have any thoughts on this?
The problem is, the EU isn’t what it set out to be. The EU set out to be, or at least said it was, a loose alliance of sovereign states. If that’s what it still was, you wouldn’t have a Brexit vote, you wouldn’t have unrest in Greece and you wouldn’t have discontent in Poland. The EU is a very oppressive organisation and I often wondered why the Eastern block rushed into the EU when it was liberated. I would understand why it would rush into NATO, but not the EU. The EU will continue to have problems from now until it implodes.
You expect it to implode?
Eventually, not tomorrow morning. As long as you have France and Germany with the attitudes that they have had for a very long time, which is that they are effectively the EU and everybody else has got to fall in line, you’re going to have a lot of discontent, and that will eventually implode. I think that what Britain does with Brexit is going to be important, because if we make a big success of it, then I would put a heavy bet on Denmark following us, and once two or three have gone, it’s going to fall apart.
The Polish version of the interview can be found in the daily newspaper “Gazeta Polska Codziennie”.